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HomeWhen art learnt to pop: Catch a new show at Mumbai’s NMACC

When art learnt to pop: Catch a new show at Mumbai’s NMACC

It’s a room full of silver helium balloons. But is it art? On the fourth floor of the Art House at the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre, viewers wonder the same thing. A gang of college-age students take selfies. A middle-aged couple and two seniors sit on the floor, transfixed. One daring spectator kicks the balloons and swirls amid them. The rest chuckle or smile. Is it art if you can kick it around?

Robert Indiana’s Love sculpture is part of the exhibition at Mumbai’s NMACC. (Robert Indiana, Love (Red Outside Red Inside), 1966 - 1999 © [2023] Morgan Art Foundation Ltd / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)
Robert Indiana’s Love sculpture is part of the exhibition at Mumbai’s NMACC. (Robert Indiana, Love (Red Outside Red Inside), 1966 – 1999 © [2023] Morgan Art Foundation Ltd / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

Andy Warhol wouldn’t have minded. The legendary American artist created Silver Clouds in 1966, inflating balloons with a proprietary mixture of air and pure helium to keep them afloat. The work has received much love from viewers across the world over the decades. In Mumbai, it’s the highlight of the exhibition Pop: Fame, Love, Power, dedicated to America’s pop-art movement of the ’60s and ’70s.

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“Pop art completely reshaped how we all view art,” says Lawrence Van Hagen, the show’s curator and founder of the independent art advisory LVH Art. The exhibition marks the first time that artists pulled images and objects from the everyday world – comic books, ads, things that would were never considered worthy of being in a museum or gallery – and transformed it into art. The show includes 70 works by such celebrated artists as Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Keith Haring, Ed Ruscha, Warhol and others.

Lawrence Van Hagen, curator of the Pop: Fame, Love, Power exhibition at NMACC’s Art House, managed by Isha Ambani . (Robert Indiana, Love (Red Outside Red Inside), 1966 - 1999 © [2023] Morgan Art Foundation Ltd / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)
Lawrence Van Hagen, curator of the Pop: Fame, Love, Power exhibition at NMACC’s Art House, managed by Isha Ambani . (Robert Indiana, Love (Red Outside Red Inside), 1966 – 1999 © [2023] Morgan Art Foundation Ltd / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

Around the world, pop art is easy to access, fun to view, and removed from the serious, sacred halo that usually surrounds galleries. Warhol’s screenprint Forty-Five Gold Marilyns, for instance, was made in 1979, years after the actor Marilyn Monroe passed away in 1962. Consider viewing an image of her from the promos of her 1953 film Niagara, repeated 45 times in gold paint. Those heavy-lidded eyes and parted lips elevate her from actor to icon, but also draw attention to her death. The work comes to Mumbai from the Leeum Museum of Art in South Korea.

Andy Warhol painted several celebrities, including actor Sylvester Stallone, singer-songwriter Aretha Franklin and designers Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani. (Andy Warhol, Sylvester Stallone,1980 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Andy Warhol, Aretha Franklin,1986 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Andy Warhol, Gianni Versace,1979-80 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Andy Warhol, Giorgio Armani,1981 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)
Andy Warhol painted several celebrities, including actor Sylvester Stallone, singer-songwriter Aretha Franklin and designers Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani. (Andy Warhol, Sylvester Stallone,1980 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Andy Warhol, Aretha Franklin,1986 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Andy Warhol, Gianni Versace,1979-80 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Andy Warhol, Giorgio Armani,1981 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

Warhol, obsessed with fame and the power that came with it, painted several celebrities, including actor Sylvester Stallone, singer-songwriter Aretha Franklin and designers Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani. These too feature in the exhibition, as does his 1974 work, Sixteen Jackies. It turns widely televised photographs of Jacqueline Kennedy, each depicting the moments before and after the assassination of her husband (35th US President John F Kennedy) into a 16-panelled canvas. The work symbolises the power of mass media and its influence on how the public experiences historic events.

Pop art draws from everything: Fashion and cinema, music, even New York city’s famed nightlife. Keith Haring’s untitled 1988 work features bright, colourful stick figures in blue, orange, red, green, purple and pink, doing the Spider Move, a dance step popularised in the 1980s. “It was the idea of making the movements I was doing into a kind of choreography – a kind of dance,” reads the late Haring’s explanation in the exhibition’s guidebook. “I was thinking that the very act of painting placed you in an exhilarated state.”

Silver Clouds was created in 1966 with balloons inflated with a mix of air and helium. (Andy Warhol, Sylvester Stallone,1980 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Andy Warhol, Aretha Franklin,1986 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Andy Warhol, Gianni Versace,1979-80 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Andy Warhol, Giorgio Armani,1981 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)
Silver Clouds was created in 1966 with balloons inflated with a mix of air and helium. (Andy Warhol, Sylvester Stallone,1980 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Andy Warhol, Aretha Franklin,1986 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Andy Warhol, Gianni Versace,1979-80 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Andy Warhol, Giorgio Armani,1981 © [2023] The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

The four-metre-tall installation, Dropped Bouquet (2021) by the artist couple Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen is the last project the couple worked on before Van Bruggen’s death in 2009. It references 31 intricate paper flowers that Oldenburg created as an anniversary gift for Van Bruggen, one for each year of their marriage. In the work, the artists blow up the size of these flowers, rendering them in aluminium and painting them in radiant colours. “The sculpture serves as a beautiful and poignant statement on the fragility of life,” says Van Hagen.

While America’s pop art movement was in its prime in the ’60s and ’70s, its impact on contemporary culture is still felt strongly today. “Artists from around the world, including contemporary Indian artists, continue to look to the pioneering techniques and thematic choices of the original American pop artists, constantly using them as a source of inspiration and framing pop art through their contemporary lens,” says Van Hagen. Who knows? It might make you see art in the everyday world as well.

Pop: Fame, Love, Power shows at Art House, NMACC, Mumbai until February 11, 2024. Tickets, 500 at Nmacc.com.

From HT Brunch, December 23, 2023 Follow us on www.instagram.com/htbrunch





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